I often speak with Karl Sharicz, Manager of Customer Experience at SimplexGrinnell (a Tyco Company), because he’s a very active board member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association. During one of our recent conversations he gave me an update on the company’s NICE workshops, interactive sessions where local offices review customer verbatims and develop action plans. It’s a great practice that other companies may want to “borrow” so I pulled together this post.
Here’s an overview of the Next Improvement in Customer Experience (NICE) Workshop program:
- It’s a highly focused 5-hour interactive on-site session for key district personnel (managers, admin, and front-line) to develop an action plan for improving their customer experience with district service delivery.
- In small teams, workshop attendees are exposed to their district CSAT metrics and customer verbatim comments drawn from 80 to 100 of their customers that were surveyed over the past 12 months.
- Using that customer feedback, they identify and agree upon their most prevalent service delivery challenges. They brainstorm new and best service practices to implement within the next 30 days that will begin to make an impact on customer satisfaction (and NPS scores) within the next 90 days.
- Implementation details:
- A high-potential district employee is selected as a Customer Champion and is trained to become a workshop facilitator. All facilitators must have attended a NICE Facilitator Training session. A member of the Customer Experience team participates remotely in each workshop via phone and will serve as the “subject matter expert” in case any questions cannot be addressed by the local facilitator.
- The district selects up to 18 workshop attendees (maximum) from among inspectors, technicians, service supervisors, dispatchers, project managers, contract administrators, construction managers, etc.
- The primary deliverable from the ½-day NICE workshop is a list of 15-20 potential action items aimed at improving service delivery. Those potential actions will be further refined over the next 30 days to select 3 to 5 actions or service process improvements that the district can immediately implement that will begin to change customers perceptions on services delivered by the district.
- These workshops should be conducted each year at or near the anniversary date of the original workshop—based on customer survey data for that district collected over the previous 12 months. This ensures sustainability.
Karl was nice enough to answer a series of questions:
To begin with, how would you describe your role?
Karl: Manager of Customer Experience for SimplexGrinnell, a business unit of Tyco. I am responsible for monitoring all channels of customer input, whether formal or informal and deriving insights back to the organization as to the business impact of customer experience. Fundamentally we act on any negative customer experience after a transaction where the customer provides feedback. That was key founding principle of our customer feedback measurement process that started back in 2001. Don’t measure unless you’re prepared to act. Actions were the responsibility of our local offices and we have 130 across North America. We tracked the responsiveness and resolution time to short-term customer grievances and reported that as a metric called Days Alerts Outstanding or DAO.
Why did you start the NICE workshops? What problem was it trying to fix and/or opportunities was it trying to address?
Karl: The NICE workshops were an extension of the actions that I described above. Over the course of a year we would collect feedback from roughly 12,000 customers in total and each office would on average have about 100 of their local customers surveyed over the course of the year. Once you have taken care of the acute and immediate customer issues, the question became, “Are we learning anything else from a more aggregate perspective that we can take from these surveys and perhaps improve our service delivery process?” Answering that question from a corporate perspective was cumbersome given that we did not have a text analytical engine on hand. Each survey contained responses to roughly five open-ended questions so there was a lot of verbatim commentary to sift through manually. And even if we were able to handle this at a corporate level, the local office would be less apt to own and embrace what we were telling them. Therefore we decided to take this “on the road” and bring the mountain to Mohamed, as it were.
When did you start doing these? How many have been run?
Karl: I designed the format and we had our first pilot NICE workshop in early 2010 in one of the 130 district office locations—in the Northeast. The first one of anything usually has flaws and this was no exception, but we learned that this concept had great potential. From there we refined our process and took it to an entire region—a geographical boundary of several districts—one by one. We used NPS as our tracking metric (for better or worse) and we observed that this region (having one of the lowest NPS among 10 regions) was able to raise their overall NPS by 10% in 90 days. That success helped me to drive these workshops within the other regions. So far, about 65 local district offices have participated.
Can you describe the entire cycle that includes the NICE workshops?
Karl: We chose to drive these workshops by region. Initially it was either me or one of my staff that facilitated the workshop. They run for five hours typically the morning—lunch—then a final hour. The local office chooses the participants—mostly front-line personnel but the group must have the local office manager and the service manager engaged. The regional manager is invited to kick off the session. After a clear understanding of how we survey customers is established (many are unaware of the process) the office is shown data that their customers have provided over the past year. They see scores and trends and comparisons to other offices. Then they are divided up into three breakout teams who each are given a document containing all of the comments their customer have provided over the past year of surveys—grouped by the question that derived the response. Each team is given 40 minutes to categorize each comment into a pre-set list of comment categories. A spokesperson for each team presents their findings—the top five customer issues being experienced by our customers. Both commonality and differences typically result. The large group then agrees on the “top 5 issues” to be addressed. They then return to their breakout teams for an additional 90 minutes to brainstorm solutions or improved processes to these five issues and each report out to the larger group. Typically 15-20 solutions will result. Over the next four weeks this team chooses which five or so of those solutions they will commit to and incorporates this into a roadmap with assigned people and timelines. My team reviews the plan and then schedules reviews every 90 days to determine whether the plan is working by comparing the latest customer feedback to the plan. Any aspect of the plan continuing to generate customer complaints is then open to discussion as to what may not be working—and then adjustments to the plan are made. After the year is complete, this workshop cycle is repeated—perhaps another mix of front-line personnel looks at the aggregate customer feedback from the prior year and a revised plan is put into action.
How would you describe the results from this effort?
Karl: The current manner of facilitation has changed. Instead of me and my team doing all of the leg-work on conducting workshops, we train local workshop facilitators. Facilitators are selected from the pool of “high-potential” employees for that local office. We typically train a region at a time. Local facilitators now conduct the workshops for their local district with my team acting as a subject matter expert—remotely by phone. Over the course of fiscal 2012 more than 20 workshops were conducted. Based on NPS alone, the overall transactional NPS for the company rose by 9 percentage points—from 51% to 60%. Although I can’t realistically point to the NICE workshops as the single reason for this increase in NPS, I do have data to show that it was a definite contributing factor. Groups of offices where workshops were conducted tended to show larger overall increases in NPS than those that did not.
What have been the biggest obstacles to success?
Karl: Getting those offices where NPS is running higher to begin with are the more difficult to engage in the workshop process. This comes from the “I’m already getting good marks so why do I need to improve” mind-set. The fact is, even when you are getting great scores, customer verbatim feedback still suggests customers may not be having the best experience. There is something to be gained by taking time to understand and assimilate what your customers are telling you about your service delivery process even if the numbers are saying you are looking great.
What have been the most surprising things that you’ve learned?
Karl: To me, the most surprising thing is that the better we get (NPS score-wise) the more inclined we seem to be to let down our guard—relax and rest on our laurels—and think we’re too good to need to improve any further. The NICE workshops represent additional workload to a district. They aren’t free and they are not easy. It takes a district mind-set that is clearly customer-centric. Having local facilitators provides more opportunities for employees to rise to the occasion and excel and get recognized. At the same time, it introduces some inconsistency. Some people are simply better facilitators than others and people identified as “high-potential” may not actually be good facilitators at all. This is something that is largely out of my immediate control. It is surprising to me when a “customer champion” is chosen and they turn out to be not so customer-centric and not terribly interested in the challenge. Fortunately this doesn’t occur very often but it does happen and I am surprised when it does. What is NOT surprising to me is that this has had the degree of success that it has. Anyone looking at this approach would logically assume that it would be successful. When you take care of your customers, they take care of you.
The bottom line: Employee engagement + VoC = NICE!